Jun 23, 2010

Peres interview on Israel

The Christian Science Monitor is running an interview that Shimon Peres gave to a journalist from the Los Angeles Times. Peres, as always, has some interesting things to say about the current situation and about Israel's history.

Excerpts from the interview:
Shimon Peres: Israel wanted to tell the Palestinian people that (Hamas rocket attacks against Israel) would harm them. But with two reservations: first, that it not become a collective punishment and, second, that it not create an inhumane situation. So we measured everything. Is there enough water, enough food, enough medical supplies? I’ve seen reports about the situation in Gaza and the narrative was extremely negative. But when you looked at the people, they dressed properly. The markets were full. It was a contradiction. It’s not by accident that there was not a humanitarian crisis. We felt responsible. But Hamas is the one who destroyed everything. That is being forgotten.

Peres: The fact that (outsiders) are pressing us doesn’t mean that they’re right. There is an attempt to delegitimize Israel. It’s quite easy. The Arab bloc has a built-in majority in the United Nations. We never stand the slightest chance.

But I ask myself the following question: If they are delegitimizing Israel, who are they legitimizing? They legitimize Hezbollah and Hamas and Al Qaeda, too. They don’t mean to. But if you delegitimize the fight against terror, which is very complicated, the consequences are that terror is being legitimized.

Peres: Criticism is one thing. But when you say, “Go back to Poland. Go back to Germany” (as American journalist Helen Thomas recently said in a widely condemned remark), that’s not criticizing. Or when they say Israel doesn’t have the right to exist, that’s not criticizing.

Sanders: That was one woman’s outburst. That’s not the kind of thing people mean when they talk about Israel’s isolation.

Peres: What would they like us to do? We agreed to a two-state solution. We agreed to ease the situation in the West Bank. We are easing the situation in Gaza. And there are still acts of terror. Countries that have to fight terror understand what we are doing. Countries that read about it don’t understand. It’s very hard for a person in Switzerland to understand. But the United States, they understand. We have a biography that no one else has. In 62 years, we’ve been attacked seven times in an attempt to (destroy) us.

Peres: No. No matter what people declare, there is basic agreement that there is just one law in Israel, not two laws. It’s the law of the state. The (Jewish religious) law of Halakha is voluntary, but it’s not overriding.

Second, nobody can impose religion on anyone else. You can be Jewish, or religious or secular. The complication is not in the relation between the state and religion. It’s between religious parties. It’s there that the clash begins. But in principle, there is one law.

Sanders: How is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doing?

Peres: My mentor, David Ben-Gurion, told me there is only one way to judge a leader: by the record and what he did. Netanyahu has two important things on his record. He agreed to a two-state solution, and by doing so brought an end to the ideology of the right wing, and he introduced what is being called the economic easing in the West Bank. That’s a serious record. I give him credit. I have been prime minister enough times to know that, contrary to the general perception that the prime minister runs the realities, it’s the realities that run the prime minister.

Sanders: Your role in Israel has evolved into an elder statesman. What do you see as your contribution today and your future political plan?

Peres: For 60-odd years, I was in administration as minister, prime minister, God knows. When people ask me where I spent my time, I answer: facing friction. Friction among people, among institutions, among parties. Maybe 40 percent of the energy of any prime minister is spent on facing friction...

I was a most controversial person. I had clear views, but they didn’t necessarily charm immediately the majority of the people. They accused me of many things. Now that I’m out of administration, I’ve discovered an option that never existed. That’s the option of goodwill. Sitting here for three years, I’ve hardly heard the word no. I don’t need administration. The principle of the presidency is not to run things, but to support...

I used to be the most controversial. Today, I’m the most popular. I don’t know which made me happier. I really don’t know. I like to confront. I don’t think leaders should please, they should move ahead. Leadership is not about being on the top. It’s about being out in front.

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